Pope gives advice as Italians prepare for bitter campaign

Tue Dec 25, 2012 11:04am EST
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict sent a political Christmas greeting to Italians on Tuesday as they head into an election campaign expected to be brutal and bitter: think, cooperate for the common good and don't discard values when making big choices.

The pope, in his Christmas greetings in 65 languages, said in his special message to Italians that he hoped the spirit of the day would "make people reflect, favor the spirit of cooperation for the common good and lead to a reflection on the hierarchy of values when making the most important of choices".

Italy holds national elections on Feb 24-25 to choose a new parliament and a new government.

Given that Italy's Catholic Church has turned its back on former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - who is trying to make a comeback even though his previous terms were mired in sex scandals and judicial woes - Benedict's words could be far less general and casual than they appear at first glance.

"It's not a specific endorsement for (Prime Minister Mario) Monti but it comes pretty close, given the well-known esteem the outgoing prime minister enjoys (at the Vatican)," the Italian news agency Ansa said of the pope's words.

Monti has urged Italians to join a debate on their country's future. He declared his availability to lead a reform-minded centrist alliance to seek a second term to complete the economic reform program begun when he took office just over a year ago.

He may yet stay on the sidelines, outside elected office, but still exercising substantial influence over a new centrist grouping that could at the very least help shape the agenda of the next government.

The Church has been embarrassed by the scandals surrounding Berlusconi but at the same time fears the unknown of what a leftist government might do on issues such as gay marriage and euthanasia.   Continued...

Pope Benedict XVI (C) waves as he blessed the crowd as he makes his "Urbi et Orbi" (To the city and the world) address from a balcony in St. Peter's Square in Vatican December 25, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi